Volume II, Number 10
EXCUSE #1 I have neglected this blog for a long two months because I have been busy. Phillip Fry and I were finishing our book, TEXAS COUNTRY SINGERS.
EXCUSE #2 I read somewhere that the average blog has only two readers, so I wondered if it was worth my time to keep sweating and swinking.
EXCUSE # 3 I am dog lazy, and these are the “dog days of summer.”
ANSWER: Some have asked me who the people pictured in the photo in the last blog (Vol II, Number 9) are. From the left, Phillip Fry, me (with the hair “down long and shaggy like the hippies out in San Francisco”), Barbara Bordelon (who was married to Phillip Fry at the time), the famous yodeler Kenneth Threadgill, and the late Diane Dodson, who was keeping company with me at the time. Fry and I dedicated our famous book as follows; “To Barbara Bordelon and Diane Dodson: We Waltzed Across Texas.”
QUESTION #1. Those ex-disc jockeys who read the news on the local stations always say of fires, “The blaze was tapped out at 9:15.” I know where “tapped out” comes from, but I am sure they do not. Do you?
QUESTION #2. Why do those people who are dispatched to storms always say, “The hurricane was packing winds of 167 miles per hour.” “Packing?” Like “Pistol Packin’ Mama” or like “packing heat” or like packing up to get out of town?
A SNIPPET OF VERSE:
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while that in me sings no more.
A WHOLE POEM:
To make a prairie it takes a clover—and one bee.
One clover and a bee.
The reverie alone will do
If bees are few.
I should have done this earlier, but I didn’t. Not long ago, I read Shelby Hearon’s new novel, YEAR OF THE DOG. I liked it a lot and should have said so earlier. Shelby, who is about a month older than I am and makes no secret of it, has written about sixteen or seventeen novels. I have read them all and have written about all but the latest. I got started reading her because she was a Texas writer who wrote a lot about Austin—and later New Braunfels and Waco and New York.
The latest is set in her present home, Burlington, Vermont. In it, a young woman from South Carolina has a trifling husband who left her for somebody else, so what could she do? She moved, for her “sabbatical year” to Burlington where her aunt May lives. Her Aunt May is close friends of the famous mystery novelist Bert Greenwood, a figure of mystery himself (or herself, as the case may be). Here comes the dog part—the real maguffin of the book. Janey takes on the job of training a guide dog, a Labrador puppy named Beulah. If the dog has all the traits needed for guiding the blind, it will be taken away after a year. If Beulah does not work out, Janey will get to keep her.
O.K., that is all I am telling about this book. Read the rest yourself. I will say a little about Shelby Hearon’s women characters. All her books center on the lives of women, some very young, some middle aged, a few old. Some of her novels had to do with mothers and daughters, the best of those is HANNAH’S HOUSE. But what I think Shelby does best is to tell the story of young women like Janey or like Jolene in OWNING JOLENE or like Ella in ELLA IN BLOOM or like Avery Krause in A PRINCE OF A FELLOW. All have been mishandled by men, but all are still youthful enough to keep looking for “a prince of a fellow.” As you can see, I like Shelby Hearon’s novels, and I like Shelby Hearon, who has always been friendly and nice to me. That counts for a lot.
MY HERO BILL MERCER
A few years ago, my Number One Son was telling me over the phone all about how much he liked to watch wrestling on tv. He was going on and on and on and I was hardly listening because the whole “rasslin’” world was a bore to me. And he should have had better taste. After all, he was in his thirties at the time and should have been watching “Miss Marple” or “The Rockford File.” Along in this conversation, he mentioned how much he admired a certain announcer and how great the announcer was at interviewing these behemoths of wrestling. He said, “Bill Mercer will go up to Fritz Von Erich’s door and Von Erich will threaten Mercer and Mercer won’t back down. Bill Mercer is really great!” I said, “I know, I like Mercer. We work together some.” “WHAT? WHAT? You KNOW Bill Mercer?” I said I did, and he kept repeating, “You really KNOW Bill Mercer?” “You actually KNOW Bill Mercer personally.”
Time passed, and UNT held the Governor’s Conference on the Literary Arts for the Sesquicentennial, and Mercer and I had done some radio shows and some tv shows for the conference. My son, who had little interest in the literary arts, came up from Austin just to see Bill Mercer. Somewhere, I have a photo of Bill Mercer with Steve Lee in a headlock. I wish I had it to show here. If I ever find it, I will put it on this blog for both of the readers of this blog to see.
Well, in sooth, Bill Mercer is famous as a “rasslin’” announcer. Or used to be when wrestling was a big deal at the Northside Coliseum in Fort Worth and the Sportatorium in Dallas. At one time he was the third most popular American in the Middle East—next to, I guess, Elvis and Jesus. (A short digression: Jesus was probably an American if you can believe the tabloid NEW OF THE WORLD. They say the bodies of Adam and Eve were found in Colorado. They also say the Garden of Eden was down around Colorado Springs. They are the ones who told of the baby born with angel wings. If they are right, it makes sense that Jesus was an American.) They closed the stores in Lebanon when Mercer’s wrestling show came on.
But Bill Mercer should be known for a lot more than the grunting and groaning of the overweight rasslers. He should be known for more than sports announcing, even though he was once the voice of the Dallas Cowboys on radio, the voice of the Texas Rangers on radio, and even did a stint in Chicago with the world’s most boring sportscaster, Harry Carray. He used to broadcast the UNT Mean Green on radio, and in recent years has done the Round Rock Express on a part-time basis.
But Mercer is my hero for many other reasons. In 1943, he joined the U. S. Navy and served on an LCL, the kind of combat landing vehicle that went in close at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and took fire from shore batteries. I was safe on a destroyer in the Pacific Fleet during the Korean War where the worst thing we had to worry about was cold weather and bad food, and I can only imagine what it must have been like for those sailors in WWII. Mercer saw some “rockets red glare, some bombs bursting” etc., etc.
After the war, he went back to college and graduate school and then wound up in Dallas at KRLD. It was there that he was one of the several radio reporters who broadcast the JFK murder. He, along with Bob Huffaker (once my student), George Phenix, and Wes Wise wrote WHEN THE NEWS WENT LIVE, a story of the radio guys who witnessed the assassination and the hubbub that followed. Mercer’s latest book is PLAY BY PLAY, his life in radio. And more. He gives a lot of sketches about the formation of radio and the beginning of sports broadcasting. Buy the book! He should send me one free after this! Autographed by God!
Now I will get to the part that makes him my hero. In 1991, I was chair of a big blowout at UNT to memorialize Texas’ entry into WWII. My chestnuts were pulled out of the fire by a bunch of good people, chief among them Bill Mercer and Sherry McGuire and Carolyn Barnes and Jane Tanner. Mercer and Sherry put together the best part of the program. Bill used all his connections to get Tom Landry, who was a bomber pilot, to come. He and Sherry lined up the Tuskegee Airmen, the Pearl Harbor survivors, and the veterans of the Japanese POW camps. Then, they managed to get all but one of the Texas Medal of Honor winners from WWII to come (Ensign Gay was summoned to Pearl harbor for their commemoration). Somehow, Mercer and Sherry got a three-star general to come up and award a Medal of Honor to the family of a man who had fought in the Indian Wars. I am vague on how all that come about, but it is roughly that the medal had been given to the dead guy and then taken back because he was only a scout or something. In any case, the medal was re-awarded, and Mercer and Sherry managed to get it done on our campus. I fear we would have had a small and lackluster show if Sherry McGuire and Bill Mercer had not taken a hand in a program that was too much for me.
I mentioned Carolyn Barnes and Jane Tanner. They had a great hand in producing the book we put together for the WWII program. It is called 1941; TEXAS GOES TO WAR and should be on every bookshelf in Texas. It isn’t, but it should be.
Bill Mercer is in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. And he sure is in mine. He is now 81, and I hope he lives for decades and decades and keeps on teaching at UNT and broadcasting games and writing books.